With seven nominations- Outstanding Production, Outstanding Ensemble, Lighting/Sound, Direction & three acting nods- Litmus Theatre’s ambitious adaptation of the 1930s dystopian classic Brave New World is one of our most-celebrated productions of the year. In addition to his role as rebellious poet Helmholtz, Litmus co-founder Adriano Sobretodo Jr. served as one of the project’s lead producers, ushering the adaptation through years of development and workshops before it finally hit the Theatre Passe Muraille stage in 2016. He stopped by the Nominee Interview Series to dive deep on his memories of the production and everything that led to its success.
We last interviewed you for the 2014 series. Catch us up on what you’ve been doing since then.
That was for the, The Container, which was remounted. So kind of going backwards from Brave New World, and kind of overlapping in the schedules between Brave New World, was the remount of the Container, which was arduous in its own right. Just being in performance for The Container, often twice a day, and then preceding that would be the Brave New World rehearsals, so, pretty taxing. And before that, on the theatre front, it was mostly development with Brave New World the year before, because we’re all kind of on an annual cycle of development, sometimes another round of development, and then production, hopefully, on the third year. So, before that we did a development period of Brave New World.
When you returned to The Container, had anything evolved or changed in an interesting way?
Yeah. Well, I mean, I guess it’s a big thing when it’s such a small cast and then we had one actor change. So, that changed a lot of things because the cast is, you know, inside the container the whole time, working with each other and there’s not too many entrances or exits. So that was huge. That was a huge thing to have one actor change. It just changed the whole dynamic of how we interacted, and things that worked in the previous production changed considerably just in how they approached it and I think just their natural personalities.
You mentioned Brave New World and that you were working on it with Litmus in your interview over two years ago. How did that idea come about and what went into that long adaptation process?
Well I guess with the company we haven’t done a whole lot. It’s been I think coming on eight years now. We started out with that adaptation of Macbeth– Matchbox Macbeth, and then when we did that, and it gained a lot of traction, we thought “okay, we don’t want to be known as the company that does Shakespeare but we did like the experience of working in the non-traditional venue”, so we continued that with a Birth of Frankenstein production. So that was a second point, I guess, in space. So then for the third one we really wanted to challenge ourselves. Claire Wynveen, Matthew Walker and I, we always throw around ideas and ways to challenge ourselves. One of the ways we challenged ourselves with the second production, Birth of Frankenstein, was allowing each of us, the three of us, to not only find found text in letters from Percey Shelley to Mary Shelley, but also to insert our own writing into that. And the challenge in this third production, for Brave New World, was just finding something in the realm of science fiction, which I think for the most part theatre stays away from- I think because, there’s so many great science fiction films, and TV productions, because they have that budget to make it look slick. But could we approach those themes and this novel Brave New World, that is written about the future, but stage it in a theatrical sense, and get away with maybe a lot of, the talk of helicopters by suggestion and theatricality? We’re always looking for that little magic element in all of the productions that just seems like, “oh, that would be really fun to bang our head against the wall and figure out how to stage…”- and that’s how we know we’ve come across a story where it needs to spark the imagination of the viewer or the audience. I think in film and television, that spark is usually just, like, “Let’s just create that. Let’s create that helicopter scene with a wide panoramic and the bird’s eye view” – but for us, we don’t have that. We don’t have the budget. We don’t have the technology. So we have to find other means to show those images.
What were some of the biggest hurdles the project faced along the way?
The novel itself [laughs]. I remember reading it a long time ago and then, for the most part when we discussed it, when we asked other people about the novel, it’s really hard to remember any part of the narrative, the characters. People remember like, “Oh yeah, the soma…” or they remember like “I think there was a helicopter ride” or they have a vision of the world. So one of the big challenges was just the narrative itself. In the first part of the novel Bernard Marx is set up as the protagonist and then he just kind of lets you down midway through, and then the person he discovers, John “the savage” all of the sudden comes to prominence. And I think, in a play at least, I think we’re not used to that where all of the sudden our protagonist is switched around on us. So the narrative arc is a bit odd to begin with.
Another challenge- there were memory sequences that the character goes into at length in the novel, about what this John character’s life was like before, his relationship with his mother, his relationship with abusive men in his mom’s life, so I remember it was challenging because Eli Ham, who was playing that character, was defending that character and all the story points in that character but Matt as director also needs to look at the overall picture and advance the story too. So there was a bit of, “what is good for the character, what is fair and representative for the novel and for Huxley’s story, and what do we need to do in order to adapt it to the stage”
What were some of the biggest ways that the project changed and evolved throughout the development process?
Hoo. Well, the cast. The two [plays we did before], I think of them as the small productions we’ve done in the indie community. You know, if you’re looking at over four actors in a production where you’re trying to pay them decent wages, it’s not economically feasible – which is why I get so excited during the festivals or during school productions, or even the opera where you can see this mass of humanity – and you’re like, “wow, how do they afford that?” and then you’re like, “oh, it’s the opera, oh they’re on a festival model and they have a different pay structure.” I mean, eight actors is by no means a huge mass of humanity, but for us it was. It was a big deal.
But one of the challenges we realized was over the three years of development of this project- we did a fall development cycle in the first and second year, each of those years- ideally, we would have loved to retain the people we had in the previous [workshops]. They brought so much to the table, not only as performers but I mean behind the scenes, staging-wise, blocking-wise, musically. People have different talents, not only that they’re bringing themselves but that they’re sharing with the group, and we do a lot of that, so it was really tough to know that other performers we had in previous sessions had obligations. And then, compounding that, we really didn’t know when we could securely offer a part to them, and we don’t feel right holding people or saying, “oh yeah, it’s coming, it’s coming” when we just weren’t sure where we were on production, funding-level. So it was, not last-minute, but certainly a few months before we knew, “okay, we can offer this part to you, we know we’re going to be able to pay you, do you accept?” So we had to change a lot of the cast around.
But, on the other hand, what was great, was that we sought out some people, actually two, three people, that we had never worked with before. So that was exciting, too, and also scary, because you don’t know. I’ve worked with a lot of them, but I didn’t know, what will they be like in the room, will they mix with the rest of the cast that was there during the workshop periods, and how will they be on stage, do they understand… I think we have a certain aesthetic, will they latch on to that, will they be open to that? But it was great. It was wonderful having that new infusion. The people that we worked with had done so much more before, so they brought a lot of their talent and experience to the rehearsal room and to the production at the end.
Tell us about that final cast that ended up in the production. How did they all come together, and how did they fit into the workshopped versions of the roles and how you originally saw them?
Even before getting to the cast, I’ll mention – one guy I had worked with a long time ago, in Kitchener, was this musician and composer, Nick Storring. I always kept my eye on him because I thought, “he’s so interesting, he’s really talented, he’s just really curious” – that’s the most important thing, is, they need to be, everyone, any kind of artist you bring on board, you want them to be naturally curious about the work, but also about expanding their tools that they use to tell a story, and Nick, a sound designer that we brought on, he was bringing in a lot of interesting texture. We’d never worked with a sound designer like that before, so this was a big component for us where we felt great about the staging and the lighting and other aspects of design but we hadn’t really got into sound. For example, one of the things that Nick came up with is buried in the sound, but I think it’s during this movie scene where John and Lenina are watching this film. He brought in, he was sampling a vibrator on there, which was, I mean it’s interesting that that’s the tool that he decided to use, but it’s also, I think, fits in with the world, although it’s something from contemporary society, that idea of self-stimulation and that you don’t, you don’t need a partner anymore, you can be self-sustainable, these loose relationships with people, it really fit in with the world. So that’s an example, a great example of kind of the textured work that Nick was bringing in.
He and Patrick Lavender are actually nominated for their lighting and sound design. Can you talk a little bit about the technical side of the show and the unique way that you used the TPM space?
Working with Nick within the space was also really interesting because when Matt and the rest of the group described what we were going to be doing with the space he got really excited about being able to put recorded sound but also live sound in different areas of the Theatre [Passe Muraille] space. So for example, one of the things, there’s a side entrance off of [the stage], which is kind of hidden but we played a lot of our sequences into the “savageland” in there. So, Nick hung a microphone there, and we’re using like echo-effects in that corner to kind of create a different world all within the same Passe Muraille venue.
Pat Lavender of course, we’ve been working with Pat since the beginning when we were working on a tiny little show up until this, our largest show in the Passe Muraille mainspace, and Pat was working on lights and design in there. But we really love Pat because, it’s just the ability to create all these different looks and feels within the space and the willingness to try to put lighting in the spaces you’re not even quite sure where that’s coming from- a lot of hidden light sources. I remember when we got into tech, and there was one coming out of the staircase, and it just creates this striking visual image down the staircases as Lenina and Bernard are coming and meeting one of the characters from that Savageland.
Another thing that I thought was brilliant was just, we couldn’t create the factories, but how do we create the sense of like, busyness and the industrial age. And then both Nick, with his mechanical, kind of creaking sounds, and Pat, I remember they had this great effect with like a spinning turbine, slowly spinning on the floor… with just suggestions we tried to create that world for the actors and for the audience.
You used parts of the TPM people don’t usually use- like the catwalks-
Yeah. We had a great partner in Theatre Passe Muraille, and in Andy McKim, the Artistic Director there. We were in Residency at Passe Muraille over the last couple of years and when they said that we could use the mainspace for the production one of the first things we asked, we’re like, “within safety regulations – we want to be using probably parts of Passe Muraille that you may or may not have been used before but we want to be able to have free reign to explore that.” So, our rehearsal period, it was interesting because we always feel strongly about rehearsing as much as we can in the venue in which we are going to perform. Most of the time you have a week at most, to load in, do a couple of tech runs, maybe a couple of previews and away you go. But our process period, we were there for I think two, two and half weeks at Theatre Passe Muraille, starting off really slow, just like exploring the available spaces- “what does it tell us when we’re up on the catwalk?” We used all these different levels of the whole mainspace, all the way up in where lighting goes, up at the very top, and then I guess there was another level around where all the railings were, and then there’s the stage level, and then we actually worked a little bit on the floor level where the lowest seats are, I guess the street level there. I think that was important for a piece like Brave New World where there are just so many [locations]. [The levels] create that sense of height with where certain character’s offices are, or how they’re traveling, so we needed a place that could give us different looks. So that, in combination with our designers, with lighting, sound and costume, we tried to achieve that by trying to focus, pulling into certain areas of the space.
So now do you want to go back to the cast?
Oh yeah, the cast [laughs]. We had Nehassaiu deGannes, who was someone who I had worked with at Driftwood Theatre because I was the associate Movement Director. That was the first time I had seen Nehassaiu. And for her role of Mustapha, I think Matt was really looking for, going back to the source material, one of the things we were really looking for was, it was a really male-dominated world, and that is the message back when the novel was written, in the 30s, published in the 30s, but is that the message we want now? So I think an interesting spin on this is giving women more agency, and we thought, the best way to do that, or one of the great ways, was to give the person who has the most power to a woman, and in addition a woman of colour. Nehassaiu was great in that regard, I don’t know how many times in rehearsal she would be questioning what she was saying and why she was saying it. And Matt, to his credit, really entertained that and never let anything go by, where if it seemed gratuitous, or we have to stop and talk about it for an hour just because we have to settle it in all of our minds and in particular in Nehassaiu’s mind as well. So I’m glad that we did that.
I don’t think any of us had worked with Jesse Dwyre before, but what a treat. Just to give you an idea of how much work Jesse did, his copy of the novel had like, a hundred, maybe a thousand little sticky notes, all crinkled and curled around his copy of Brave New World. So he really did a lot of research into the book, and was really interested in the material. And that character is really tricky, casting-wise. It’s almost like it’s someone who is very intelligent but also feels like someone’s just got their thumb on them the whole time. So, there are rebellious people in the world, including the character I played, Helmholtz Watson, but there’s something that was tricky, one of the trickiest roles to cast was that Bernard character.
Sophia Fabiilli played multiple roles, but mostly Fanny and Linda. This was a real stretch for any actor. I mean, our Fanny was a very young woman, very promiscuous in the world, but then the other character she was playing, Linda, the mother of John, was, on page, an aged mother who had gone through a lot. So it was a huge challenge to find someone to be able to have both of those beings in her body. I think Sophia did a great job at being able to do that.
We also brought in Carlos González-Vio who I think both Matt and I had worked with in small ways, on workshops and stuff, but he was great as Henry Foster, kind of the male role model that everyone looks up. Carlos is just really supportive in the room. Also I think he has this great quality – he just has a really stable quality to him. So it was nice to have him there. And I think he played that role really well, and was a great counterpoint both to Bernard and to my Helmholtz Watson.
Eli I’ve worked with a few times now, and he did a really fine job with a really challenging role. There’s a scene with John and Lenina, where they’re kind of arguing, and this is an opportunity for a lot of actors because it’s only the two of them on the stage, to get a breather – but I found myself backstage behind these screens every single night. I don’t think I missed it once. Because, for me there’s – it was a long play, the running time is quite long, and I always look for scenes that can really ground me even though I’m not in them at all but I feel like if I experience them, if I just listen to them, it helps me. Especially the run-up to the end of the scene, I often find myself just sitting there and listening. Both of them, both Eli and Zoe [Sweet] in that scene were just really strong and anchored me in my supporting role. I thought they were great in a play that oftentimes was a little bit ridiculous but it was always tricky finding that grounding.
So, speaking of Zoe, in that Lenina role, that was in a lot of ways when we got feedback from our workshop and we asked people on our questionnaire which character they associated with most, so we were receiving a lot of responses saying it was Lenina. Though in the novel I don’t know necessarily if that comes across that she’s a main character, we wanted to give her more agency, we wanted to give her more power and control. So, Lenina for us was a through-line, where the male characters were going up and down but Lenina was constantly questioning. She was very close to Bernard. She was very close to John. And she has a little bit of a story-telling monologue towards the end where, for us, it was I think Lenina carrying on the story, being able to tell the moral of story, or what happened, to not only the audience but I guess to the future, where this is what happened, these are the perils that could happen. So in a lot of ways I certainly felt hopeful for a person like Lenina in that world.
Ryan Hollyman I think probably had the most characters to go through. And he brought such play to all of them. I remember Matt saying he was really so pleasantly surprised with Ryan, because he’d only seen Ryan in his Ryan-leading-man kind of roles. Certainly he’s played a lot of them before. But we’d never seen him, or Matt had never seen him get kind of silly and indulge that side of his personality, and he has such a great playfulness in the room, all the time. That was a real pleasure, watching him just keep pushing his characters further and further until Matt had to say “Okay, we need to drop back!” But I think, as actors, that’s what we need to bring to the directors – different options. Just keep dialing it further and further until, you know, our director, our outside eye, says, “Okay, I think that’s enough”. But at least you need someone to be able to do that, to present variety in different degrees and extremes for a character to be able to find that right fit for the piece as a whole.
As someone who was in the process from the very beginning, you could have really picked any part you wanted. What attracted you to Helmholtz?
It’s tricky. I know when we started the company, we thought “we want to create great work, but we also want to create work for ourselves” So, it’s tricky because, sometimes we put up a production, and there’s a natural fit for us, and sometimes it can be the main role, but I don’t think any of us three necessarily… If something comes out and there are roles that we feel are better suited for other people and those are the prominent roles- like, My Entertainment World picked out some great performances and great actors from Brave New World [for nominations], and that makes us really happy, especially the ensemble nomination and ensemble awards, because we’re always trying to feed that.
Looking at the novel and the description of Helmholtz Watson, who is a writer, a propagandist, like, he-writes-poetry-in-the-shower, kind of guy, but he was also described as big, muscular kind of person. For those who have seen me, I’m not exactly that guy. So I mean, we’re often cast in roles where the initial write-up is not exactly who we are, but what can you draw from that to the person you are? So, for that, I think a lot of it was, for him, that conflicted artist role. That’s what I associated. That’s why I thought I could bring a lot to that role. I mean, my life as an actor wasnt always that – I came late, very late, to the party, where I was a business guy, a consultant, for a good ten years of my life before I ditched that and went into acting. I don’t know if there’s ever a week that goes by where I think this was the right decision to do. I’m sure that’s a common sentiment, but I think about days of having money to be able to travel and do all these things. I was on a very different path in my personal life when I decided to flip over and do this, and I think for Helmholtz, there is a decision where he could continue going in one path and be very successful working for the state, using his artistry to, kind of like Mad Men, like the Ad Agency, using that creative energy towards something that maybe you don’t really believe in and could actually be harmful, but there is a creativity to someone who writes speeches for the politician you don’t like, or to sell a drug that maybe is not doing good in the world – or there is the path of an artist, which isn’t glamorous but is being honest to yourself. So that was my in to an artist who physically didn’t sound like me at first, but I’m always looking for something to latch on to that’s personal to me, and that was it for Helmholtz Watson for me.
You mentioned that a bunch of the actors are nominated. I mentioned that the lighting and sound team are nominated, plus the ensemble- it’s one of our most nominated productions of the year, including a nod for direction. Tell us a little bit about working with Matt.
Matt’s been having a really great few years. Matt and I are good buddies. We went to theatre school together along with Claire, but we all three of us went in to the actor’s ensemble, at York University. We did our MFA there. But coming out of that, I just assumed that “okay, all of us are ready – let’s just act!” I just assumed everyone would be doing that. But then slowly, I think with a lot of acting classes, people just start, sometimes just pull themselves out altogether because they find something else that’s fulfilling, or they find that this isn’t really what it’s cut out to be, but, and often, which was the case with my class, a lot of people found areas around theatre that maybe weren’t necessarily acting but that gave them fulfillment. For Matt I think it was really directing and overseeing the project as a whole. So, for this it was a big challenge for Matt because solely he was the one doing the adaptation and then the directing. Claire Wynveen was doing the dramaturgy along with Matt, so she was helping guide him and question him on those decisions, and we had input from people like Andy McKim who was an Artistic Advisor and Script Advisor as well. But for the most part it was Matt dealing with that and that was a new challenge for Matt.
But, I think what’s great about Matt, and one of the qualities, the best qualities, he has as a director, is something that he’s always had, his ability to just bring a lot of people together. I think it’s kind of understated. I know directors that have great visions and great ideas, but it’s not always pleasant in the room, and sometimes it’s really challenging to work with them in the rooms. But I’ve never heard anyone – it’s always very cordial in the room. He brings a great, very calm, like I’ve never seen Matt freak out over anything, in the depths of technical rehearsals or a couple days before.. he’s a really steady hand and personality in the room. A very calming personality in the room and he really gains the trust of not only the actors but the whole team.
Another thing that I think is great, and it sounds almost counterintuitive for a director, but the ability to bring in a lot of people’s opinions. Everyone, from our Stage Manager [Sarah O’Brien], to our Lighting Designer [Pat Lavender], our Costume Designer [Lindsay Woods], all the Actors, Producers – you know, Matt, the company, welcomes that kind of input from everyone. Of course, not everyone’s ideas are going to make it to the table and to the final cut, but it’s Matt’s decision to do that. He comes with a lot of his ideas but is open to suggestions from other people, and one of the philosophies of the company is, “let’s present these ideas and let the best idea win”. And I think actually, in thinking about this, these two ideas kind of go hand in hand, because you need everyone to buy into that and be able to feel open and secure and safe in the room, so you need to be able to not feel like you’re going to be ridiculed or the director’s going to “tut-tut” you for talking out of line or speaking about an area of the production that you shouldn’t. I mean, everyone’s, I think, we try to instill that everyone speaks respectfully about, you know, not telling other people what to do – a suggestion, a positive suggestion is something different. So, one is creating that environment in the rehearsal room, and then, allowing everyone, because when you bring all these minds together, this great cast of eight with all this diverse experience, and these designers with all this experience, there are so many ideas in the room. It’s almost like, how do we harness all this creativity and get people to feel open enough to contribute all those ideas even like, “oh yeah, I’ve got this idea–” and then allowing someone to build on that, allowing someone to kind of, corral all those ideas, and then choose what’s best for this particular story.
How do you feel Brave New World has been altered by the 85 years that have come since its publication?
Well, for one, I think for me these dystopian novels, there’s been a few – Orwell’s 1984 was the big one- and there’s times when I’m like “Hey, Kelly, we’re doing Brave New World--” and people were like “Oh yeah yeah” and then they would talk about 1984. [laughs] They were like, “Oh yeah, I remember that part–” and would say something about 1984. But in my mind it makes sense, because in my high school it was a unit on The Handmaid’s Tale, and then 1984 and maybe Brave New World. So, I experienced these novels in a concentrated period of time and often did my book reports comparing one to the other. So I think it’s natural to get them mixed up, especially for Brave New World, where as I mentioned I don’t find that plot necessarily memorable. So after all this time, I think one of the things that’s — the novel itself doesn’t change but our perception of it does. 1984 seemed very relevant in the world where security and that type of view was coming to the forefront, where people were really worried about the government’s overreaching arm and ever-watching eye. So, of course, Big Brother and closed-circuit televisions, and how we’re always being monitored – I think that was the big fear for a lot – that our civil liberties were being eroded and we need to protect ourselves from the Big Brother who is always watching and a government who is always trying to garner more information and keep a watch on its citizens.
But what I think is brilliant today in the age of social media is that Brave New World kind of predicted that we might willingly give up those liberties and freedoms if the trade off is something really good. Like, if it’s a good drug or if it’s amazing sex, if it’s an amazing alternative, we might give that up. I look back at my life, and I think there are so many cases where I’d rather choose the happy route. It’s conflicted at times, too. I take for example, a lot of people put their finger on modern dating. Tindr I think is focal point for that. I’m one of the guys who was at one point on there, but, it’s troubling. At one point I was like “Wow, this is amazing”. You can meet all these people who you would never cross paths with before, it’s so easy. But on the other hand, it’s such a disposable way of looking– swipe left if you don’t want that product. And I think it also gave the illusion that if something isn’t working, get rid of it. And that world of just – and a company like a dating app, a dating site – it’s within their business model to keep everyone single. If everyone got together and hooked up, there would be no one on these sites, so it’s no wonder that they’re like “oh, you might enjoy that person, but there’s five other people you should go check out – ” Kind of like, sacrificing human connections to support the business is the way things were driven in [Brave New World‘s] World State, you know, consumerism trumps all. We want people to go to the country to keep business going. So I thought that was brilliant. I don’t know how Orwell or Brave New World could’ve seen that such a long time ago, but in a lot of ways we thought that the world of Brave New World was the one that we were living in now, and the one that spoke to us, that spoke to Claire, to Matt and to myself, especially now where we willingly give up those freedoms that we have to make life easier. And maybe, is struggle a bad thing? Because you watch any commercial, and it’s always about “make life easier” – “this car will make your life easier”, “This fridge will tell you what groceries you’re missing…” but, there is something that’s in the struggle that is missing if life is too easy – then what does it become? And I think we’re constantly trying to make life easier for ourselves, but there is an expense to be paid for that.
What were you hoping the audience would take away from the show?
We did talk about that, and we, part of that was we were really, for this looking-at-consumer-culture, we really wanted to go after an audience this time that we thought were kind of like ourselves. We wanted to challenge them with that. What better place to do that than kind of in the heart of Queen West. One of the great things we did in getting audiences to think, our Associate Producer Kevin [Matthew] Wong, he spearheaded a parallel project at the same time called Brave New Theatre. Brave New Theatre was a response play. Kevin was working with us but he brought this idea. It sounded great, but it also sounded like a heck of a lot of administration and logistics and work, but him, and his partner, were like, “you know what, we feel strongly about this, we want to do it” So, a response play was bringing in some young artists to watch our production, and then to give them a short amount of time, I think it was only a week or so, to respond to Brave New World with pretty much any art form that they wanted to. It could be a song, it could be a play, it could be just a reading of something. In a way, as theatre creators, you hope, or you think, you know what people are going to respond with and think about your play, but the audience has a mind of their own, and they’re going to take away whatever their experience is. Attending that event was really interesting, to hear what people were bringing away. I remember some groups were talking about violence towards women, for example. That was something that resonated with a few of the artists that saw [the play]. That’s how they responded. I remember another group was talking a lot about exclusion. They interpreted it through racial exclusion. They were artists of colour that were dealing with that. I mean, I think that’s what’s great about a play with universal themes. You experience that, but everyone goes away and can relate that to their own life somehow and it doesn’t seem so narrow that it’s only about certain people that aren’t me.
We wanted to implicate everyone in this. We thought it wouldn’t be successful if everyone was like “okay that was great but that was not me” or “that was just interesting” but then forget about it the next day. Part of what makes it a great novel and story is that it is the kind of the thing you’ll be like “Remember that?” Like, one example was, I remember speaking at one event and asking “Who do you think won Brave New World?” And they were like “Well what do you mean?” like, “Who do you think, got what they wanted?” Often times it can be a very clear cut answer if we see a play. These people did not get what they want. Often in theatre I think, no one gets what they want, but, it was really conflicted answers, because there’s this world leader who seems to be getting what she wants, but she also seems boxed in. My character, I kind of get what I want in that I’m allowed to keep writing what I want, but I’m also sent away to this remote island, where I get to do my art but I take it that no one gets to see it or experience it or read it. So, is that good? I’m kind of writing in a silo. What is the art if you aren’t able to share it with other people? So I think people took away different things. I loved that the endings were sort of open-ended and you just weren’t sure how you felt about all the different characters there.
Was there a majority answer to that question?
Not that I experienced. I mean, there were obvious – not obvious choices, but people would say, “Oh um, John -Yes, he did die, but, you know, he died following through on what he believed in” So, did he get what he wanted? Yeah, people weren’t happy with that. A character like Lenina, people were like “Oh maybe she’s hopeful” and I think we tried to shape or, make her more hopeful than perhaps in the novel. But I guess for every character that you think was left on a good note, there’s also these troubling parts of that story.
Did you have a favorite moment in the production?
Well, I mentioned the one, the heated argument between Lenina and John, and I think part of what I loved about that was what happened right after that – and this was part of what I loved about Matt’s adaptation, was just, in the heat of something really dire and serious and really taut, comes this really ridiculous moment on the heels of that where Ryan Hollyman’s spa worker character calls John and tells him that his mother is dead. Which, when I say that it sounds horrible, but when Ryan Hollyman is delivering this in this ridiculous character kind of way, it just breaks up that tension. It’s almost like a necessary release valve for the audience in a moment of high tension like that, but it’s also brilliant in that, we never want to take ourselves too seriously with what we’re doing. So that’s certainly one of my favorite parts.
Another was when Lenina and John, they go to the Feelies – the Feelies are kind of like those extra-sensory movie experience that people go to – and part of it was just, from the audience point of view, there was a screen, there were these shadows, it kind of looked like an opening to a James Bond movie to me, where there were writhing bodies and colours and you could only see silhouettes, and there was that movie preview voice in the background. But what made that part particularly satisfying for me was I was off on the side and I could see what was happening behind [laughs]. We had Sophia and Carlos, just two fantastic physical performers, just writhing on top of one another and doing the most ridiculous… it was the most low-tech solution to that, but it worked really well. And then the odd time Ryan would jump in to that and join and make that duo a trio. I think that’s part of the magic of what I love about this company, is finding those really low-tech solutions to something like the feelies, where they say you can, like, smell, and the vibrations, and all of your sensations – because of this, but trying to figure out a way to create that in our audience’s mind without really going to an extreme of replicating that. Sparking their imagination to create that in their heads.
Do you know what you’re working on next?
I do with Litmus. We’re in a development phase on a project that we started a long time ago, I think six years ago. We put it on the shelf back then because we weren’t getting any traction. We said, let’s put this on the shelf and just leave it. We went on to do Birth of Frankenstein and then Brave New World. The project is something that we always thought was a Litmus kind of production in that it sparked our imagination and there were different worlds and there was a magical element to that. The project is something around the stories of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. So, in particular we were really interested in, there’s this section called the afterthought, it explains Peter’s interactions with Captain Hook and with Wendy and the Darling children, but it’s years after. Wendy has grown up, she’s married, she has a daughter named Jane. She’s living in a house in London, and then all of the sudden Peter comes through the window as if nothing has happened and says, “Are you ready? Let’s go” And Wendy has pause and says “Wait a second, what’s going on, I’ve moved on, what are you talking about” It’s this interaction between them that’s really great. Going back and reading that I didn’t realize how dark a lot of Barrie’s writing was. Things about Peter’s upbringing and how he feels his mother abandoned him, or traded him out for another child. Or, just, there’s a lot of death that happens. So we’re working on that right now, towards a theatre development workshop. One of the things that’s really getting us excited is this is first time we’ve collaborated with an outside playwright to write this for us, and that’s Jordy Mand. We felt a bit weird about doing that because we wanted that spark to come from the writer themselves and not to say “this is what we want” – we weren’t ordering a pizza [laughs] but I don’t think Jordy even knew that this is what we were working on before. We said “This is kind of what we work with as Litmus, anything that you deem as kind of a classic story, we’d love to shove it in an interesting space.” And independently she came back with Peter Pan, and we explained what we were interested in, the history that we had with that with that project. She kind of took that on her own. What’s nice is there’s a lot of layers of the draft that she’s created that we’ve read that talk a lot about – and it feels like a lot of personal experiences from Jordy, from the playwright, you know, questioning a lot of Wendy’s perspective in this, as a girl, as a woman, as a mother. A lot of the questions that she had about who she is throughout that. I think we get a lot about the boy, or the man who doesn’t want to grow up, constantly trying to keep young, but we feel like that story has been told, that’s the story we often get, the boy who doesn’t want to grow up. But looking at it from Wendy’s perspective, that’s what we’re looking to workshop at the end of this year.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I just came back from Winnipeg. I was working on the Jungle Book at Manitoba Theatre for Young People and I was playing Mowgli in that, and in a lot of ways it’s reminded me of this Peter Pan project, where I’ve been set up to play the Peter character. In a lot of ways I felt like, “Oh, Mowgli feels, kind of like that,” like this boy that’s, a lot of people are wishing him to grow out of there, get out of the jungle and move on. So I think that experience, and with my own life experience, being an artist, I feel oftentimes really selfish, and I think Peter in a lot of ways a really selfish person. I don’t mean in a bad way, too, I think you have to be, but yeah, Peter, he has a very narrow sight of what other people want. It really butts up against this new adaptation that Jordy’s working on, especially when we see how Wendy, through obligation, a lot of what she has gone through is very different. It seems like Wendy has been trying to help people. Peter has been self-centered through all of that. Which of those is the way to go forward in their lives?